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Wed

11

Jul

2007

WHAT TO DO? WHAT TO DO? Taking Action In The Face Of Collapse
Wednesday, 11 July 2007 14:35
by Carolyn Baker  

Every time I write an article on collapse such as my most recent one "Happy Independence Day; You Have No Government", I am bombarded with emails asking me "what should I do?" For those who have just discovered this site, that is a legitimate question because for them, the reality of collapse may be new. Those who have been following this site for some time have heard many suggestions on what to do, but this article will offer those and other suggestions again more clearly and more adamantly than they have been offered here before. The intensity you are likely to hear in this piece is driven by the urgency which I and many of my peers are feeling at this moment. Quite frankly, it's time to quit screwing around with talking about collapse and start acting. The Rubicon has been crossed, we're not living in Kansas anymore, and we are living in the closest thing we've seen to pre-World War II Germany than anything since then. Suit up and stop theorizing and speculating. It's showtime.

The first thing I'm not going to tell you is that collapse can be avoided or that human ingenuity and technology will come up with something to spare us from it. I'm not going to tell you that there will be some mass movement-some magic http://www.collapse.org/ that will organize progressives into a groundswell of  protest, writing letters to Congress, creating blogs and websites, supporting the "right" candidate, and asking for donations. No, what I'm going to tell you is that as a nation and as a planet, we are screwed, fucked, and shit out of luck, or if you prefer Spanish, estamos jodidos.

The second thing I'm not going to tell you is what you'd like to hear-how you can just keep living the lifestyle you're living but that somehow you can avoid collapse. I'm not going to tell you that you can keep banking with Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, or any of the other satanic financial monsters and it will make no difference to you or anyone else. I'm not going to tell you that you can keep buying your food at your local supermarket or Walmart, and everything will be fine. I'm not going to tell you to go out and vote for a presidential candidate in 2008 when even if there is an election, whoever is selected by the electronic voting industrial complex, will be that complex's man or woman-body, mind, and soul. I'm not going to tell you to get a hybrid vehicle or put solar panels on your house. In fact, before I tell you to do anything, I'm going to invite you to engage in doing nothing.

Tim Bennett and Sally Erickson, creators of the documentary "What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire", have suggested five things you can do, and I'd like to elaborate on those.

Unlike ancient cultures, America is a society of manic doers. Before we have even understood the problem, we are frantically rushing to find a solution. So I'm going to ask you first of all to stop-dead in your tracks and do nothing. In fact, I'm going to suggest that you go out in nature, sit down on a quiet log, tree stump, rock, or on the grass, and do and say nothing. Look into a river or stream, study a blade of grass, pick up a handful of soil, focus on a colony of ants, but whatever you do-pay attention. Look, listen, smell, and above all, feel your own emotions as you: 1) "fully acknowledge and internalize that the culture of Empire is destroying the support systems on which the community of life depends, and robbing us of our essential humanity."

Acknowledge that all of your efforts and those of everyone you know and love cannot and will not prevent collapse. In addition, feel the powerlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness that courses through your body as you do this. Feel the forever loss of the stream or grass, or soil, or animal that you might be looking at. Imagine in its place the extinction of everything you are now perceiving. All that you are now observing has been supporting you, and soon, it will be gone. How does that feel? Yes, I know. Sad, tragic, horrifying, enraging-and now you feel even more despair. It's OK. Let yourself feel it-really, really feel it. This is sacred time. This is the moment of truth; this is your meditation on what is so, and you can't do anything else-not really, not effectively until you feel these very feelings. In other words, surrender to the idea of collapse. Stop running from it, imagine it, feel it. The more you focus on doing, the less you'll focus on feeling, and your doing will not work for you until you feel the feelings behind your doing.

And then, when you've experienced those very precious and necessary moments of sacred truth, take yourself into the company of those you love and begin talking about what is so: 2) "Talk about your concerns with everyone you know. Make peak oil, climate change, mass extinction and population overshoot household words." There will be many people you cannot discuss these with. Find those with whom you can. This is the beginning of "finding your tribe"-finding those individuals who get it, who feel what you feel and are no longer in denial about collapse. They have probably been looking for you as much as you have been looking for them. Talk not only about the facts, the research, the events of collapse, but equally or even more importantly, about your feelings about it. This really isn't hard to do. If you have children, think about their future. What do you feel?

Yes, I know you want to know more about what to do, but slow down. You're moving too fast. Keep feeling. Keep talking.

The very first action steps really have to do with you and your inner world. You need to think and feel about who YOU want to be in the face of collapse. What kind of work do you really want to be doing? 3) "Find your work in the world to preserve life, change this culture and /or create restorative ways for individuals and communities to live in harmony with each other and the non-human world." Does the work you're doing help to preserve life? Do you need to relocate to another part of the country or world so that you and your loved ones can live lifestyles that prepare yourselves for collapse? What are you doing to take responsibility for your food supply? How are you preparing to live in a post-petroleum world? Can you even fathom what that means? Such dramatic change does not happen overnight; it's a transition, but remember, you don't have all the time in the world. Several dozen species have become extinct while you've been reading this article.

4) "Assess what you actually need during this transition in order to live and do your work. Only buy what you need and buy from local sources in order to support the creation of local economies." And now comes an enormously important exercise: What do I need and what don't I need? Preparation for collapse will change as much in your life as will collapse itself. Every step of preparation is a meditation, a paring down, and gathering together, always informed by "Who do I want to be? What's really important? What do I really not need? What do I really need?"

I believe that one reason collapse is so unthinkable for many individuals is that they have no spiritual (I did not say religious) basis for navigating it. On the other hand, some individuals can think deeply about and realize its daunting reality, but they approach it with cynicism and bitterness. All of the above questions I have suggested entertaining are essentially spiritual questions because they are questions of the soul. 5) Therefore, "find or deepen your spiritual connection to that which is greater than you. Ask and then listen for guidance about how to live joyfully and creatively in the face of these unprecedented times."

One of my favorite mantras is a quote from Derrick Jensen: "We're fucked, and life is really, really good." Amid the dismal we need fun, joy, play, lightness of heart, art, music, poetry, songs, stories, and creativity of infinite varieties. Yes, I know, it's a tremendous challenge holding such opposite emotions in the same body, but that is our work in the face of the end of the world as we have known it. Recall the words of Morpheus in "The Matrix": "I didn't say it would be easy, I just said it would be the truth."

I will be away from the computer and Truth To Power from July 14-28. Not only do I need two weeks away from the website, but I need to gather with my "tribe" as we spend days and nights in nature sharing our feelings and planning how we might create and maintain a community for navigating collapse. People often ask me what I'm doing to prepare and where I might relocate. Even if I were able to tell you, what I would tell you isn't necessarily what you should be doing or where you should be going. Only you can discover that for yourself. My wish for you is that you will use these two weeks to contemplate your future and where you need to be and what you need to be doing.

Remember: There are no "solutions" but only options as the fascist empire concretizes around us. Part of the empire's agenda is to keep you, like a dog chasing its tail, looking for solutions and bashing people who don't offer them to you but tell you the truth instead-that the future of you and your loved ones is entirely in your hands and no one else's. The sooner you let go of your illusions about avoiding collapse and someone or something being able to prevent and cure it, the more energy you will free up to act on behalf of yourself and your tribe.

OK, now I've told you what to do. If you don't want to do it or refuse to do it, please don't call me "dismal", "negative" or a "purveyor of hopelessness." Look in the mirror and ask yourself how it is that after all this time, despite all the information you have, you still don't get it. Someone has said, "Deal with reality or reality will deal with you." Do you want to deal with reality when collapse is in your face, or do you want to take action to prepare for it now? Ground yourself in your authentic feelings about your collapsing world, then join with your tribe to build lifeboats. For two weeks this website will be in "hibernation". It could be sacred time--time to reflect, time to feel, time to act-before time runs out.
 
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a guest said:

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Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I stumbled here through a link posted on The Oil Drum. Sometimes the universe works in very mysterious ways.

I've just come out of a two-year episode of despair brought on by realizing the "sacred truths" you talk about. what brought me out was a spiritual (NOT religious, as you perceptively point out) transformation that I describe briefly in http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Sprituality.html, "The Spiritual Effects of Comprehending the Global Crisis". Upon more reflection it turns out that the spiritual perception that I describe as pantheist is more correctly and usefully understood as a conversion to Deep Ecology as defined by Arne Naess in 1972. I completely agree that such a spiritual realization is essential if one is to emerge from the inevitable despair and resume a functional life.

Likewise on point 2 - my family is so completely aware of the issues that I have been kindly (and sometimes pointedly) told to shut up, they get it already, please come back when I have a positive thought or two to share.

"finding your work" is of course the next step. Even if your day job is already useful, ethical and life-affirming, what should one's "night job" be in relation to these issues? Writing, speaking and local organizing of one sort or another seem to be obvious choices.

As regards simplification, may I recommend the book "Radical Simplicity" by Jim Merkel? It's a great guide by someone who has walked this path and helped to blaze the trail.

Finally, what about hope? After all, the last thing to come out of Pandora's box was "Hope". Since we are staring deeply into that box right now, what new revelation might we take as a hopeful sign? The state of affairs right now seem utterly hopeless. Ecological devastation, oil depletion, population growth and socioeconomic instability are converging to give humanity the thrashing of its life, in the process reducing the human community to perhaps one billion members before the end of the century.

In fact there is a hopeful sign, but only if you change your perspective.

Start from these three realizations:
The genetic imperatives that drive our reproduction, consumption and competition guarantees that we will not change our civilization's value set voluntarily or preemptively.
Humanity is like yeast. We reporduce and consume until our ecological niche is stripped of resources and poisoned by waste, then we die off.
Humanity is like cockroaches. We are resourceful, adaptive and hardy, and you can't kill us all.

These three facts mean that some portion of humanity will survive to regroup and rebuild in a massively damaged, resource-poor world. On our way through the bottleneck we will lose much of our physical and social capital. The one good thing about this, from a species, biosphere and planetary perspective is that the existing socioeconomic structures will be forcibly and involuntarily stripped away, leaving room for new structures to take thwir place.

The question for me has become, "How do we ensure that the seeds are in place for a value set that will survive through and bloom after the bottleneck, a value set that will ensure that the next cycle of civilization has a chance at sustainability even in such a badly damaged, resource-poor world?"

I've become convinced over the last couple of months that the seeds have already been planted. They are even resilient enough to make it through, and carry the correct values.

Paul Hawken has just written a book called "Blessed Unrest" in which he describes a set of one to two million local, independent, citizen-run environmental and social justice groups. These groups exist world-wide, and are each is acting on local problems of its own choosing. There is no overarching ideology beyond "making the world a better place", there is no organization, no white male vertebrate leader setting the agenda. As a result the movement is extremely resilient - no government action anywhere can shut it down, even though individual groups may be suppressed. These groups make up the largest (though unrecognized) social movement the world has ever seen.

Hawken sees this movement as part of humanity's immune system. While I like the metaphor and think it is exactly correct, I believe the importance of these groups is much greater than just their efforts to mitigate an unavoidable collapse. These groups have been called into existence by the world's dis-ease, and do two things: they work to fix local problems now (which will mitigate some local effects of the collapse), but more importantly they act as carriers for the values of cooperation, consensus, nurturing, recognition of interdependence, acceptance of limits, universal justice and the respect for other life. Those are precisely the values that a civilization will need to achieve stability and sustainability. To top it all off, many of these groups are led by women or espouse specifically matriarchal values, oine attribute I see as essential for any sustainable civilization.

At the risk of sounding sentimental, I call these groups the antibodies in Gaia's bloodstream.

I am convinced we will not save this civilization, but I'm equally convinced that thanks to the seeds that have already been planted in these groups we have a shot at a much better one in a couple of hundred years. The crucial change in perspective required to see the hope in this is to stop looking from here forward into the decline, and instead look backward from a position out two hundred years and imagine what it will take to rebuild a truly sustainable civilization from the ashes of this one. The values required are already embodied in a resilient organization, enough of whose elements will survive to transmit a sustainable value set into the ecologicaly damaged, resource-depleted world we will bequeath to the future.
 
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